Zohra Ahsan

Staff Writer

Whether you know her as Tay, Swifty, T-Swift, or even T-Swizzle, everyone who listens to this era’s modern music knows the blonde lyrical genius and country-pop superstar. 

Although she started solely as a country artist nearly fifteen years ago, throughout the years, the songwriter has experimented with many different musical genres. Here’s a deeper look into some of her major turning point albums released throughout her career. 


2006: Taylor Swift 

Source: Discogs

Only a freshman in high school, 16-year-old Swift had written a series of songs which she released in her own self-titled, fully country album called Taylor Swift. She devoted these songs to her high school experience, and soon after, she found her music instantly becoming popular as it made its way to the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. 

Upon releasing this debut album, Swift received a lot of attention from older country artists like Rascal Flatts, George Strait, and even Tim McGraw, due to her musical talent at such a young age. She had worked side-by-side with Liz Rose, a more experienced country songwriter, to construct the lyrical aspects of each song. This album came with many emotional messages through music, like in “Tim McGraw”, the first song of the album. “I was dating a guy who moved away, and it was going to be over for us. So I started thinking of things that I knew would remind him of me. The first thing that came to mind was that my favorite song is by Tim McGraw.” Other songs on the album did not come with such a memorable attachment, such as “Picture To Burn” and “Should’ve Said No”, which were solely meant to portray Swift’s feelings of anger and passion throughout her high school years. 

It is also recognized how not all of her songs on this album were related to her. For example, songs like “Tied Together With a Smile” and “Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” were actually about situations friends and family were going through. “Tied Together With a Smile”, for instance, was written at a time where she had learned about her close friend’s eating disorder. She wanted to show that even the strongest and happiest of people have weaknesses and obstacles that they must overcome every day. Even though she had not personally experienced all of these themes, she felt the messages were important to implement a conscious, narrative aspect to her music. 


2012: Red 

Source: Discogs

After releasing the Fearless and Speak Now albums, Swift brings a different approach to her music with her 2012’s Red album. Withholding her narrative style, the songwriter sings in further mature, emotional themes within her songs as she ventures through many problematic relationships of adulthood.

She worked with many producers in hopes of steering away from her original country vibe and introducing further musical genres, such as pop and folk. This desire came with a few doubts. “It was an interesting wrestling match with my fears of remaining stagnant that made Red the kind of joy ride that it ended up being,” the singer voiced. The completed album comes with many musical elements such as rock, pop, country, and folk. 

Some of the songs on the album that received the most fame were, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, “I Knew You Were Trouble”, and “22”. A common theme within all of these songs was that they all sounded much different and upbeat compared to Swift’s previous pieces. 

While fans seemed to enjoy and praise Swift’s new experimentation with the pop genre, critics had claimed the sense of the album was “inconsistent”. Swift confidently responded, saying this new change intended to show the chaotic complex of a breakup through the switching between country and pop styles. Some of her emotionally driven tracks on the album are “All Too Well”, “Red”, and “I Almost Do”. She wanted to portray her feelings of “intense love, intense frustration, jealousy, and confusion” through the narratives of these songs for her listeners to relate to as well. Swift claims that this album is her “only true breakup album,” as the songs are placed in an order that had corresponded to her growth and learning through her relationship. 


2014: 1989

Source: Discogs

1989, named after her birth year, was Swift’s fifth studio album which was purely in the pop genre. It debuted singles like “Bad Blood”, “Blank Space”, and “Shake It Off”, all of which have become widely popular. This album had also won Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 58th Grammy Awards of 2016. Many of the tracks on the album had dramatic basslines and programmed percussion, a huge contrast from Swift’s typical guitar strummed melodies. Swift specifies that she had collaborated with new people such as Max Martin, who was well-known in the pop music industry, to achieve this type of sound. 

This album represented the songwriter’s metamorphosis from her innocent, “country sweetheart” personality, to someone ready to take on new challenges in her life. Perhaps Swift shows her fans this physically, with her opening track, “Welcome To New York”. As this indicates her move to the city for new opportunities, the singer hints that she is ready to move away from her Nashville-themed musical style. 

Additionally, fans and critics had observed the difference in Swift’s storytelling throughout the songs presented on the album. In previous songs, Swift had sung about her heart being broken by others and the pain they had caused her specifically. In the 1989 songs, Swift’s lyrics seem to be holding herself accountable for faults in relationships, reflecting on the split struggle between two people in love. “On this album, I’m writing about more complex relationships… even if you find the right situation relationship-wise, it’s always going to be a daily struggle to make it work,” Swift told NPR in an interview. 


2017: Reputation 

Source: Discogs

With an enigmatic Game of Thrones theme and sassy personality, Swift brought Reputation to the table in 2017. 

In this album, Swift takes a turn from her usual romantic theme. Her songs reflect on the ideas of society, identity, and fame. Swift says this album was inspired by an “alter-ego” that was dark and bitter, hinting at how the theme of the songs was more critical and self-defining. 

The name of the album itself, Reputation, was derived from Swift’s take on setting priorities and the constant spotlight celebrities experience in their lives. At the current time, Swift was dealing with a lot of backlash from the press and public in regards to her personal life and physical appearance. Rumors were flying around on whom Swift decided to get romantically involved with, her sense of style, and her bodily appearance. These remarks had led to the singer making poor choices with her lifestyle, creating a toxic, unhealthy mental and physical environment for herself all because she wanted to fit society’s standards. 

Swift eventually realized that she couldn’t live to the standards of other people. She used some time to stay away from the media and social platforms; however, she still reached out to her fans in other ways regarding her work. The singer had described “Reputation” as a “seen live” album. “Songwriters need to communicate, and part of communicating correctly is when you put out a message that is understood the way you meant it…When it first came out everyone thought it was just going to be angry; upon listening to the whole thing they realized it’s actually about love and friendship, and finding out what your priorities are,” Swift said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. 

Moving beyond traditional themes of love and romance, Swift here uses a more personal, private tone in this album to portray a sense of confidence and stability, showing that she won’t let negative aspects of society or life interfere with her emotional identity. 


2019: Lover 

Source: Discogs

Late summer of 2019, Swift came out with her seventh album, Lover. Once again, Swift presented her music in a light much different from her previous works such as “Reputation” and “1989”. 

After Reputation, Swift feared her fans would take on a harsher, confronting tone due to the characteristics of the album. She found this to be false at her shows for the Reputation tour, as she was approached by fans who still admired her and showed her empathy. “I see that they see me as a flesh-and-blood human being. That—as contrived as it may sound—changed [me] completely, assigning humanity to my life,” Swift said. Her fans’ support regardless of her hardships with the media and downfalls in her personal life caused her to feel a sense of positivity, which she then used to construct “Lover”. 

This album revisited Swift’s romantic vibe, coupled with a sense of inclusivity. Rather than singing about direct breakups, Swift sings about a variety of nostalgia-induced emotions alongside affection. “The idea of something being romantic, it doesn’t have to be a happy song. You can find romance in loneliness or sadness or going through things in your life… [Lover] just looks at those things through a romantic gaze” Swift indicates. Even though she had written about love stories within some of the tracks, the piece was more motivated towards general relations and events in life rather than just encounters with a significant other. 

Swift indicated that this album had been easier for her to write as it came back to her idea of direct, narrative storytelling. Within the songs of “Lover”, she reverts to different eras of her musical career and reintroduces them all together in one album. “[I was] singing about my life in the way I experience it.” Swift voiced. She felt “brave enough to be vulnerable” after her experience with the “Reputation” album, making this album comfortable and personal in a more playful sense. 


2020: folklore 

Source: Discogs

Whilst being quarantined in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Swift worked on a surprise indie-folk creation called, Folklore. This album featured many smooth, slower ballads such as “the 1”, “exile”, and “cardigan”. 

Considering the pandemic and the cancelation of Lover’s Fest, an album-influenced concert tour, Swift was not expected to drop any new music. However, during her time in quarantine, the singer decided to use this extra time to engage in more literature and watched various movies like Jane Eyre, L.A. Confidential, Rear Window, etc. 

The writing techniques in each of these entertainment sources had encouraged Swift to move beyond her typical first-person narrative style, pushing her to adapt to a third-person outlook. “It was really really freeing to be able to just be inspired by worlds created by the films you watch or books you’ve read or places you’ve dreamed of or people you’ve wondered about, not just being inspired by your own experience.” The singer noted. Swift used this idea along with her miscellaneous imagination to write Folklore about topics and stories that had grabbed her attention.  

“It started with imagery. Visuals popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity. Stars drawn around scars. A cardigan that still bears the scent of loss twenty years later. Battleships sinking into the ocean, down, down, down. The tree swung in the woods of my childhood. Hushed tones of “let’s run away” and never doing it…Pretty soon these images in my head grew faces or names and became characters. I found myself not only writing my own stories but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met people I’ve known or those I wish I hadn’t.” Swift told Billboard. Using these anecdotes, Swift reached out to collaborators and other musical influences like Justin Vernon from Bon Iver and William Bowery, to continue her songs 

Another significant characteristic of Folklore was its lyrical structure. Fans praised Swift for her elegant, poetic verses. Swift tells Paul McCartney that she had used “flowerier” and “prettier” vocabulary without worrying about whether it would complement the radio. “I always thought, ‘Well, that’ll never track on pop radio, but when I was making this record, I thought, ‘What tracks? Nothing makes sense anymore. If there’s chaos everywhere, why don’t I just use the damn word I want to use in the song?’” Swift voiced to Rolling Stone. In Folklore, Swift had used her ideas and shaped the album to her liking and originality, ignoring any possibility of criticism from the public. 

Due to the sudden planning and ideology of the album, Swift had not expected to debut the piece before early 2021, she had even worked on the album in secrecy. These plans changed when Swift worked quicker than expected and ended up finishing the album in July 2020. She used this opportunity to surprise her fans with the news on Instagram, hours before she had publicly released the music. 

Picture Source: @TChartSwift on Twitter

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